Chris Hanley in conversation with Matt Noffs
Mullumbimby Civic Hall | Tuesday 6pm | $10/15
Matt Noffs is the third generation of a family renowned for their compassion and their dedication to working with the homeless, the mentally unwell, and people with addiction. AS CEO of the Ted Noffs Foundation, Matt Noffs continues to build on his family legacy and most recently has written Addicted?, co-authored with his colleague Kieran Palmer.
Addicted? reframes and destigmatises our concept of addiction and discusses society’s dependence on smartphones, sex, games, money, and of course alcohol and drugs. At a time when the Australian government wants to drug-test welfare recipients this book gives a crucial understanding on why some people’s lives are so devastated by drug use while others’ aren’t.
Noffs acknowledges Australia was a colony founded using rum as currency. ‘It’s not unique,’ says Matt. ‘A handful of other countries colonised by Europeans would have gone through similar early addictions in their history.’
The other key issue that underpins developing problematic addiction is trauma.
‘Most people who came to Australia, and the Indigenous people, suffered from trauma in a huge way.
‘It’s not a new realisation,’ says Matt, ‘but the correlation between trauma and problematic addiction isn’t explored in popular literature, though we are starting to talk about it more and more. In academic circles we are looking at how adverse childhood experiences play a significant role later in life. The book also explores the idea that addiction is not necessarily a negative thing. It’s part of being human. Falling in love is an addiction. The brain goes through the same emotions as being addicted to ice or heroin. But what happens is our sense of purpose helps us to recalibrate and get our lives back on track. It’s not the drug being addictive; that has been refuted. It’s people with trauma, who don’t have protective factors like a sense of purpose, or a job, or a partner or family. It’s been shown that what protects people from problematic addiction is a strong link to family, education, role models outside the family, and a sense of purpose.’
Matt Noffs believes the key to managing problematic addiction in Australia is about updating our information and beliefs around recovery and wellness.
‘You still have people who believe you have to hit rock bottom. I don’t deny those experiences for some people but I don’t feel that we need to do that. It’s punitive and it’s unnecessary. We have this old-fashioned history around people needing to pick themselves up by the bootstraps. But I know so many parents who have children, sometimes adult children, who are incredible, dependent on drugs like heroin and they support them by giving them money so they don’t have to commit crime. Who are we to judge? In the program we run I don’t care if they come in smoking joints and using ice and when they leave they just smoke fewer joints. I am more interested that they are flourishing,’ says Matt, who also acknowledges that this generation of young people smoke, drink, and use fewer drugs than any generation before.
Matt has been a driving force behind pill testing. He is suspicious of the opposition to what he believes is simply a harm-minimisation strategy.
‘If it were about young people dying you’d prohibit cars. They kill far more than ecstasy does. But that wouldn’t be tolerated so we introduce seatbelts and speed limits. That’s harm minimisation. Pill testing is the same.’
Matt Noffs describes himself as ‘an agnostic with doubts’. ‘I just can’t shake this idea of what a fantastic human being Jesus was. He was a man who did radical things like tell people to forgive one another. I look to people who beat their chest and call themselves Christians and it drives me nuts. How can you walk around in robes and use your uniform and your stature and think you are anything like Jesus Christ? The consciousness that Jesus represented is very rare to see in Christians today.’
Matt Noffs is in conversation with Chris Hanley about his co-authored book Addicted? on Tuesday at the Mullumbimby Civic Hall at 6pm.
Tix are $10/15 at byronwritersfestival.com.